Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The effect of peer interactions on Newtonian thinking in secondary physics: What are they saying? How does it help?
by Crowe, Jacalyn, Ph.D., Tufts University, 2009, 159; 3354722
Abstract (Summary)

Many studies in the field of Physics Education Research (PER) have demonstrated that courses which include a component of interaction among peers achieve significantly higher gains in conceptual understanding. Few of those studies have closely examined the content of those interactions and the role that they play in achieving those gains. This study evaluates the role of peer interaction in children's understanding of Newtonian physics and analyzes the characteristics of peer interaction that are conducive to better learning.

The current study took place in a suburban public high school, in a college-preparatory, introductory course in physics. One hundred and seventy eight students were randomly placed in the eight classes participating in the study. Two of the classes were randomly chosen to constitute the treatment group and were taught by the principal investigator. The remaining six classes were taught by five other instructors in the department and served as a control or comparison group. One class session of each instructor was videotaped to assess how class time was typically utilized. In all classes, students used the same textbook, and completed the same problem sets and laboratory investigations. Students in the treatment group participated in peer instruction activities, approximately twice per week, over the course of the semester.

Results showed a significant effect of treatment on achievement from pre- to post-test, based on scores on the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE). Employing peer instruction methods did not require additional instructional time overall. Analysis of classroom videotapes demonstrated that a greater portion of class time is dedicated to active student discussion in classes where peer instruction methods are employed. Conversational data revealed that, in peer discussions, students were routinely involved in conversational mechanisms such as articulating their own thinking, questioning, and explanation. Each of these behaviors is believed to support improved conceptual understanding.

Correlating the quantity of total comments and number of substantive comments to achievement on the FMCE post-test produced mixed results, with some significant positive correlations and other positive but non-significant ones. Failure to reach significance for these correlations may have resulted from the small sample size. A focus on changes in students' conceptions about force and motion, as identified by analysis of clusters of FMCE questions, revealed significant differences in changes in those conceptions between the treatment and control groups. Anecdotal evidence from transcripts supports the assertion that, in their conversations, students routinely articulated and discussed their own ideas about these relationships.

In conclusion, the study provided evidence that peer instruction methods are an effective and efficient method of supporting improved conceptual understanding for students in a first course in mechanics, but no specific factors present in the discussions could be identified as playing a role for every student. Instead, different aspects of the discussions’ format and content may have contributed to the overall achievement of students participating in the discussions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schliemann, Analucia D.
Commitee: Lee, Hee-Sun, Thornton, Ronald, Wiser, Marianne
School: Tufts University
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 70/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Secondary education, Science education, Curriculum development
Keywords: Newtonian thinking, Peer interaction, Physics, Secondary
Publication Number: 3354722
ISBN: 9781109119497
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